Three years ago, Jackie Ruddock founded The Social Outfit, an independently-accredited, ethical trading social enterprise that provides employment and training in the fashion industry to people from refugee and new migrant communities.
Today, the organisation continues to provide creative programs to empower women through the creation of sustainable fashion.
We seek to enrich women’s lives by exercising social and ethical responsibility and that’s why The Social Outfit is one of the seven finalists of our Female Empowerment Grant.
We sat down with Jackie to hear more…
What does female empowerment mean to you?
Female empowerment for The Social Outfit really means six key things.
The first, employment for women from refugee and migrant background. We know that in Australia one of the best things you can do is provide a person with a job and we are very focused on the first Australian job.
The second, training and the ability to be involved in something that is a skill that you already have. Many refugee and new migrant women have amazing rich traditions of sewing, so we can use that to allow women to equip themselves as they settle into Australia.
The third is that we run our creative programs and we particularly focus women in those programs.
"It’s really about letting people have a creative expression, a voice and promote a proudly multicultural Australia"
The fourth is that we have our amazing customers who want to wear an ethically Australian brand that they love and has a celebratory story and something they can share with people.
The fifth is the fashion industry, who are of course an important and integral part of what we do and we recycle fabric that would otherwise go into landfill. The fashion industry has a very strong feminine background, of course there are both men and women involved, but it’s a particularly female pursuit in many ways.
And then the sixth is of course our allies. We recognise that social change particularly around women’s empowerment is a collective effort. This is just so exciting for us because we think that together we can progress.
Creativity is something that is so integral to your brand. How does tapping into creativity help female empowerment?
Australian artist Ken Done once said that “creativity doesn’t need the same language” and I think that’s absolutely true.
"Creativity is a universal way of coming together and it allows us to showcase and explain different parts of ourselves and show the complexity of the human experience"
How does collaboration and empowerment work hand in hand?
The Social Outfit would not exist if collaboration wasn’t a key value of ours! I get to be here today and get to talk about something that I absolutely love but behind me is an absolute army of women and men who have helped us get to where we are.
We are proudly supported by over 28 Australian fashion brands, we work with big organisations that work with refugee settlement here in Australia. We know that we can’t do anything alone. We’re better together and when we spend time with one another, looking for ways to be mutually beneficial by working together, then that’s how empowerment happens.
[Collaboration] has been embedded in our work from day one. By working together, The Social Outfit has its best chance for success.
What’s the importance of diversity at The Social Outfit and within Australia?
Australia is of course, a proudly Aboriginal and indigenous country and we’re very proud of that at The Social Outfit. We also have a proud multicultural history that we want to share and showcase in everything that we do.
At last count, we have people from over 30 countries involved in our work. It’s a normal day for us to have people speaking different languages and one of the nice things about sewing and fashion is that you can share and show without having to speak the same language, which is an incredible strength.
We have so many amazing people working at The Social Outfit, so it’s a core value to show diversity in our work from beginning to end.
It’s incredibly exciting for us to not only produce beautiful clothes and do that as a part of our empowerment work for the community, but also to showcase the beauty of a diverse Australia.
You’re one of the finalists of our Female Empowerment Grant from hundreds of entries. Why this Grant?
We’re proudly a strong female capable team of diversity. I think that’s the real opportunity.
It’s also a wonderful chance for us, to work with not only the TOM Organic team but also the collective customer base that is TOM’s. There are so many alignments. I think that the women who believe in TOM would see a lot that’s really positive about our brand. These women are very committed group who are really interested in having an ethical robust and exciting future of Australia together.
The Grant is a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to herald and proudly stand up for many of the feminists and women's empowerment ideas that sit below the day-to-day running’s of The Social Outfit.
If you won, what would the $25,000 go toward?
We take investment really seriously in our work and the $25,000 would be amazing for our organisation. It will help us to grow and achieve our outcomes.
There are two really important ways that money would be invested.
One is our employment position. If we were successful we could employ another woman from the refugee or new migrant community, allowing that experience of a first paying job and giving someone an opportunity to build their skills in a business and creative environment.
The second, is to increase our training and sewing programs. We know that there is a pipeline for more opportunities and it really allows us to outreach, particularly to, more socially isolated, older or recently arrived women, to allow them to again use the strength as a way of integrating.
We are an employment and sewing organisation and that’s what I’d love to do! I’d love to use it for employment and sewing!
What does the next three years look like for The Social Outfit?
We want to continue to employ and train refugees and new migrant women to create clothing that Australian women want to buy and continue to tell amazing human stories.
It’s a vision that we’re dedicated to, and we’ll continue to work on.
Photo of Jackie courtesy of Your Creative taken in The White House gardens.